Why is it so difficult to give feedback at work, even when it is well-intentioned? The answer is fear. Either fear of reprisal (if speaking to a superior) or fear of hurting someone’s feelings and creating an awkward work environment.
These five tips can make giving feedback not only easier to provide, but it can also guarantee a better outcome.
- Ask permission to provide feedback. When you ask permission, 99.9% of the time, the receiver will say yes. That simple request shifts the tables, putting the receiver in control. With a yes, they cannot begrudge you of your offering because they have, in a sense, asked for it.
- Explain why. Giving an explanation of why you feel this conversation is important and what you perceive the added value to be if the receiver hears and responds appropriately is helps clarify intention. After all, you wouldn’t be providing constructive feedback if you didn’t have the receiver’s best interests at heart.
- Always provide an example. Provide a legitimate example of the situation, with your explanation of the opportunity for improvement, for added effectiveness. Make suggestions as to what might have been a better word choice or behavior and what the potential outcome might have been by contrast. Facts, coupled with your well-intended opinion, can be impactful.
- Make it a conversation. Give the receiver an opportunity to ask questions, or even brainstorm. Be open to the idea of an ongoing conversation — perhaps as a mentor.
- Say thank you! Even if the receiver is not thrilled with the conversation, it is beneficial to acknowledge their willingness to have it.
Watch the tone of your voice when delivering feedback so that you do not sound judgmental or condescending. Calm, even delivery is best. Julian Treasure gives an excellent TedTalk on how to speak so that others will listen using the HAIL model. HAIL is the acronym for Honesty, Authenticity, Integrity, and Love. When you deliver feedback using this model, the receiver will feel your positive intentions.
Even if the receiver doesn’t take the feedback well, it’s important to remember that you are NOT responsible for their feelings — only the receiver is responsible for their feelings. If you give feedback with positive intent, there should never be a reason for the receiver to feel anything but grateful.
Finally, if you have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback, do it. To withhold feedback is a disservice to others who could benefit from it. Choose to be of service.
How to Prepare Employees to Give/Receive Feedback
An enterprise-wide mentoring program is a good way to emphasize the importance of constructive feedback and to incorporate training on how to deliver it effectively. If you have employee resource groups, that would also serve as a great venue. Or you could offer a module as part of your training and development curriculum so long as it is open to every employee.
With a simple script using these five pointers, and one or two real-time scenarios under the belt, any employee can more easily provide well-intended feedback. Encouraging employees to do so not only improves the ways of working and team effectiveness, but it also contributes to a healthy employee culture.
Sheila Callaham is an author, motivational coach, and longtime communications and change management professional.